10 years after typhoid genome sequenced- what is being done to control typhoid fever?

The Coalition against Typhoid fills a critical gap between research and action.

On October 25, 2001— almost exactly 10 years ago — the journal Nature published the complete genome sequence of Salmonella enterica Typhi, the microorganism that causes typhoid fever. News articles announced with great fanfare that the DNA sequence would help the global health community eradicate typhoid, a disease that today afflicts over 21 million people worldwide every year.

10 years later, Stephen Baker, M.D., head of enteric infections at the Wellcome Trust Major Overseas Programme and co-author of the celebrated typhoid genome publication, poses the question in a Nature News column: has any progress actually been made?

Baker admits that researchers have learned a great deal about the biology of typhoid from studying its DNA sequence, like how antibiotic resistance develops, and why typhoid only infects humans, the types of things that will help in the eventual eradication of the disease. However he argues that concrete benefits — new treatments, next-generation vaccines and low-cost diagnostics — have failed to materialize. One explanation, he says, is that the communities that suffer from typhoid don’t have the clout to force the international scientific community to build on laboratory research.

Typhoid is a disease of poverty, and like other diseases of poverty, it doesn’t demand the same attention as diseases that affect the developed world. It’s true that some major international donors like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the GAVI Alliance continue to do great work to aid people suffering in developing countries, but Baker points out that these organizations focus on a narrow range of diseases. Baker emphasizes the need for increased global advocacy for typhoid and other diseases of poverty.

There is hope. The Coalition against Typhoid (CaT) was established to advocate for the millions of people suffering from typhoid fever who cannot speak for themselves. CaT supports research into next-generation typhoid vaccines while also advocating for the use of effective vaccines that are already available and recommended by the WHO. Its members are working with local governments to implement and find sustainable funding mechanisms for typhoid vaccination programs. They are also working to improve typhoid surveillance, especially in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa where the typhoid burden isn’t well characterized.

“Dr. Baker’s editorial eloquently points out the need for increased funding and advocacy activities in support of typhoid fever and similar enteric infections,” says Christopher Nelson, Ph.D., M.P.H., Director of the Coalition against Typhoid Secretariat at the Sabin Vaccine Institute. “The Coalition against Typhoid was established to fill this need. We are dedicated to making typhoid an international priority and to finding solutions to control typhoid now and not another ten years from now.”